View on GitHub

Data Products and Interpolation

Oak Ridges Moraine Groundwater Program

Long Term Water Budget Model

A regionally-distributed runoff-recharge model

A regionally-distributed runoff/recharge model has been developed to simulate regional-scale (>30k km²) hydrologic processes at a fine (50m grid) resolution. The model code is written to support large-scale and high-resolution distributed processes while remaining amenable to multi-threaded computer architectures. No process of the model is in any way novel, rather a suite of existing model structures have been chosen and coded to minimize model run times, while maintaining an ease of implementation, practical applicability and scalability.

Model performance has been maximized in three ways:

  1. Code selection
    The model is written in Go, an open source, free, cross-platform, self-dependent language. The Go language is inherently concurrent, meaning it has potential to create models that optimize computer resources.

  2. Queuing and Topology
    Conceptually, the model relies heavily on inferred causal relationships, such as runoff from a particular location moves in a downhill direction, where it may infiltrate and cease being runoff at downslope locations. From these relationships, the causal ordering of runoff processes is realized. This order is the model’s topology and gives rise to performance gains like recursive algorithms and queuing/load balancing.

  3. Procedural selection (hydrological process simulation)
    Having a concurrent language alone isn’t enough, rather it is hydrological processes that have been selected and coded into numerical procedures. Probably the biggest limitation to this model, is the strict avoidance of any numerical procedure that can’t be solved analytically.

The model represents a computational part of our data assimilation system (DAS), meaning it’s not intended to be a predictive tool, rather a means to gain information (runoff, recharge etc.) from readily available data. Ultimately the goal is to have at near-realtime, distributed hydro-climatological data, at sub-daily time-steps that includes estimates of:

These variables/states are calculated every 6 hours, to 12.1M model cells (on a 50 $\times$ 50 m² grid). Variables can be outputted at daily, monthly, seasonal, annual, or long-term average time-scales; at the original 50m grid or aggregated to 10km² sub-watersheds.

Executive Summary


The following is a description of the regionally-distributed runoff/recharge model, the water budget tool located on our website, hereinafter referred to as the “model”.

The model’s primary intention is to project land surface moisture distribution for the purposes of estimating regional groundwater recharge. It utilizes hydrological model procedures that are amenable to local data availability. While the model can simulate stream flow discharge and overland runoff at any point in space, the model is not intended for rainfall runoff modelling; outputs from this model will be used to constrain regional groundwater models within the 30,000km² Oak Ridges Moraine Groundwater Program jurisdiction of southern Ontario. That said, mean daily streamflow remains the primary calibration target.

This model is currently in beta mode, and its use for practical application should proceed with caution. Users should be aware that model results posted online will always be subject to change. Ultimately, the intent of this model is to produced ranges of long-term (monthly average) water budget metrics (precipitation, runoff, evaporation, recharge, moisture state, etc.) as a hydrological reference for the partners of the ORMGP. It maintains as a real-time reference, updated by ORMGP servers.

The model is physically based in that mass is conserved and processes are not constrained to any particular timestep. The model conceptualization has maintained parameters that speaks to the common physical hydrology lexicon, with parameters such as percent impervious, conductivity of surficial soils, etc. The model is a hydrological model integrated with a TOPMODEL groundwater system. The source code is open and free to use. Below is the description of the model procedures that have been codified.


Shallow groundwater


Soil moisture accounting

\[\Delta S=P-E-R-G\]

Overland flow routing


Input Data

In an attempt to make most of computational efficiency, many processes that are typically computed as part of a hydrological model have been pre-processed as input to the ORMGP water balance model. Processes such as snowmelt and potential evapotranspiration can modelled independently of the rainfall-runoff-recharge process and thus much computational gains can be made if these processes are pre-determined.

A top-down approach

The model considers the greater role the atmosphere has on its ORMGP region. The Planetary Boundary Layer (Oke, 1987) is conceptualized as the barrier from which mass must transfer when surface evaporation is captured by the atmosphere and when liquid water originating from the atmosphere is released onto the land surface.

The model input (“climate forcing”) data are provided on a 6-hourly timestep. These data have been distributed to some 3,000 10km² sub-watersheds. They reflect the sources and sinks, respectively, of liquid (read: mobile) water on the land surface.

The aim of the model design is to simultaneously reduce the amount of computational processes and leverage near-realtime data assimilation products. So, it is first recognized that from a hydrological model design perspective, that the primary driver of watershed moisture distribution is the “Atmospheric Yield”, that is water sourced from the atmosphere in its liquid/mobile form.

\[\text{Atmospheric Yield} = \text{Rainfall} + \text{Snowmelt}\]

In a similar sense, the “atmosphere” (specifically the Planetary Boundary Layer of Oke, 1987) also has a drying power, a sink termed “Atmospheric Demand”.

It is matter of perspective that dictates the terminology here. The model was designed from a top-down viewpoint. Terms like “potential evaporation”, which speaks to the evaporation occurring on a surface with unlimited water supply is instead termed “atmospheric demand”, that is the capacity for the atmosphere to remove moisture from a rough land surface.

Only snowmelt, rainfall and evaporation are not readily available in a distributed form and need to be determined. The model is integrated with the ORMGP data management platform. Below is an interactive map of the climate forcing distribution used in the model. Total model coverage ~30,000km².

Note: sub-watersheds shown above each consists of roughly 4000 model grid cells

Finally, the model was designed to remain amenable to data availability and new technologies. For instance, SNODAS can avoid the need to model snowmelt explicitly (saving on run-times) and leverage these online resources. CaPA-RDPA eliminates the undesirable need to spatially interpolate station-based precipitation.

Data sources, transformations and pre-processing

see glossary

Model Variables

One goal set for the model design was to leverage contemporary gridded data sets available from a variety of open and public sources. Products known as “data re-analysis products” or “data-assimilation products” attempt to merge meteorological information from a variety of sources, whether they be ground (station) measurements, remote sensing observations (e.g., radar, satellite, etc.), and archived near-cast weather model outputs. When combined, the gridded data resemble the spatial distribution of meteorological forcings unlike what can be accomplished through standard interpolation practices using point measurements (e.g., thiessen polygons, inverse distance weighting, etc.).

An advantage to the data-assimilation products is that it removes the modeller from needing to model certain processes explicitly. Here, for example, the model does not account for a snowpack, rather inputs to the model include snowmelt derived from SNODAS.

The extent of the model combined with the resolution of the processes simulated lends itself best viewed from a top-down perspective (REF). This allows for model simplification by which many of the layered water stores (i.e., interception, depression, soil, etc.) may be handled procedurally as one unit. Viewing the model domain in it’s 30,000 km² extents,one can imagine how difficult it would be to discern any vertical detail.

Physical Constraints

Digital Elevation Model

The Greater Toronto Area 2002 DEM (OMNRF, 2015) was re-sampled to the model’s 50x50m grid cell resolution. Surface depressions were removed using Wang and Liu (2006) and flat regions were corrected using Martz (1997).

Drainage directions and flow-paths of the now “hydrologically correct” DEM were were assigned based on the direction of steepest decent (D8). Cell gradients ($b$) and slope aspects were calculated based on a 9-cell planar interpolation routine. The unit contributing area $a=A/w$ topographic wetness index $ln\frac{a}{\tan\beta}$ (Beven and Kirkby, 1979–CHECK) were computed for every cell.


The 30,000 km² model area has been sub divided into 2,813 approximately 10 km² sub-basins. Within these sub-basins:

  1. Meteorological forcings from external sources are aggregated applied uniformly within the sub-basin (via a pre-processing routine); and
  2. Local shallow water response is assumed to act uniformly (the shallow subsurface catchment area).

Land use and Surficial geology

read more

Model Structure

Computational Elements

Model grids in the model represent a homogenized area on the land surface, similar to the concept of a Hydrologic Response Unit (HRU). The term HRU will be avoided here as the concept itself is not well defined and simply “model cell” or “cell” will be used herein to avoid ambiguity. All processes within the cell are assumed to represent the “average” condition within the grid cell. The spatial proximity of each cell is maintained, meaning that runoff occurring from an up-gradient cell will “runon” to an adjacent down-gradient cell to preserve the spatial distribution of land surface moisture.


The model runs on a 6-hourly basis in order to capture hydrological dependence on the diurnal fluctuation of energy flux at the ground surface.

The time step of the model has been set to 6 hour steps on 00:00 UTC, yielding the local time steps of 01:00, 07:00, 13:00, and 19:00 EST. This step is chosen as it matches the received precipitation dataset described above.

Model Domain

The overarching model code employs an object called the “Model Domain”. Here, all necessary model data are digitized and self-contained, including:

  1. Structure holds all the geometrical and topological constraints to grid cells, including the physical dimensions of cells and knowledge of where runoff is to be routed.
  2. Mapper contains a cell-to-type cross-reference map to distribute model parameters, such as percolation rates, soil zone depth, depression storage, etc. The Mapper projects parameter selection onto the grid space domain based on their local (an often unique) land type.
  3. Forcings: Input (variable) data, generally climate forcings: $Y_a$ and $E_a$.
  4. Subwatershed provides the model with optimal order of processing, ensuring a down stream process.
  5. Parameters: Parameter collections for a set of land-surface and groundwater reservoir types.


The model’s structure is defined rather simply by at least 5 raster data sets. The model’s input data pre-processor will generate additional information based on these data:

  1. digital elevation model
  2. land use index (with parameter lookup table)
  3. surficial geology index (with parameter lookup table)
  4. groundwater zones

While a distributed model, the procedures applied at the cell scale are quite parsimonious. There is no separate treatment of interception, depression storage, nor soil water retention, rather it is assumed that these processes respond to environmental factors (e.g., evaporation) concurrently and thus treated as one.

From the top down perspective, viewing some 12.1 million 50x50m cells covering 30,000 km², it seems rather overcomplicated (possibly frivolous) to account water any more than to total mass present at any particular location.


Land area that has the capacity to retain water (through interception, soil retention, depression/rill storage, etc.) must be satisfied before runoff is generated.

Runoff is conceptualized as being generated through the saturation excess (Dunne, 1975 CHECK) mechanism. The saturation excess mechanism is dependent on topography and its interaction with the water table. The model is distributed with an integrated (albeit conceptual) groundwater system.

Surface water-groundwater integration is viewed from the hydrologists’ perspective: areas where is the groundwater system limiting infiltration (shallow groundwater table) and even contributing to overland runoff (springs/seepage areas). As a model output, this can be quantified as a net groundwater exchange field (groundwater recharge less discharge)

The basis of the model is that topography is paramount to the lateral movement of water yielding runoff. The model is deemed regional, in that it covers a large areal extent, yet is kept to a fine resolution to ensure that observed geomorphic flow patterns are represented in the model.

pre-defined data-driven parameters

The following are determined using a topographical analysis:

globally applied parameters

Cells with a contributing area greater than 1 km² are deemed “stream cells” in which additional sources include groundwater discharge to streams.

Regional groundwater parameters

Groundwater processes in the model are conceptualized at the sub-basin scale and so much of the groundwater parameterization is implemented here.

Land use based parameters

Each cell is classified according to (i) surficial geology and (ii) land use mapping where each class is parameterized independently. “Look-up tables” are used to distribute model parameters according to their classification.

The following are used to compute the overall retention/storage capacity:

Surficial geology based


As a simple expression of the model’s ability to squeeze everything from the computer, this is what happens when 12.1M model cells running at a 6-hourly timestep:



Oke, T.R., 1987. Boundary Layer Climates, 2nd ed. London: Methuen, Inc.